The Edge Project

Playhouse Theatre, Cheltenham Jazz Festival

The idea was an interesting one: give musicians a chance to push the boundaries with 20-minute sets of work that might be in progress, a new direction, or a one-off experiment. And to make it more helpful for the audience, the stipulation that the musicians say a little about it beforehand – yes, in words.

The three performances certainly fitted the bill.

Pianist Kit Downes and cellist Lucy Railton have been working as a duo called Trick0-Tareco and have taken to inviting a guest to join them. This time it was Julian Arguelles on tenor saxophone. Downes subtly processes sounds from a little box on the piano – so there was falling water (rain?) as a gentle background to one piece; he also seemed to be manipulating the sound of the cello. Arguelles was the master of sensitive additions to what was clearly already a complete musical experience, blowing near silent breaths to add to what was a rich timbral texture, especially when the music was restricted to one long drone note.

Chris Mapp, armed with a bass guitar, a lap top and a floor full of effects pedals, built from space-filled loops of rhythms to an impenetrable metal wall of sound and in the process captured exactly what this project should be all about. It was risky, probably divisive in terms of audience response, and a reminder that daring leaps are vital if this music is to move forward. One young musician in our party, Will Maclean, described it as sound sculpture, which I think is a pretty good way of putting it.

Leafcutter John on laptop and Pete Wareham on tenor saxophone with a mic thrust down the bell and connected to a box of tricks, did the full experimental thing with smoke and mirrors – well lights rather than mirrors – showing that, just as they are as two-fifths of Polar Bear, they are masters not only of their instruments but of creating sometimes rather scary atmospheres and textures in sound.

I was a little disappointed in the brief interviews prior to the performances. Despite being slightly reticent, Mapp was the most helpful, explaining: “My aim is to make you believe I’m not playing the bass, even though I’ve just told you I will be playing the bass”, and referring to his early love of heavy metal and the recent return of that interest together with the way that with time his music had moved into freer, more experimental areas. The others were positively obscurant, responding to Festival Advisor Tony Dudley-Evans’ questions with jokes and evasion. It’s perfectly natural that jazz musicians want their music to speak for them, but i think they could usefully take some tips from other contemporary artists and work a little harder to invite their audience in.

Maybe that’s a good topic to explore in a separate post.

Many thanks to sponsors of this event PACKT Publishing for instigating what deserves to become a Chelt regular occurrence.



Categories: Live review

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